The other day I heard an aspiring clergy person argue that mainline progressive churches are doing our earth stewardship just fine, that it’s the evangelical conservative churches who are the stumbling blocks to the care of the earth.
This budding young church leader is not alone. Among people in progressive churches I hear often that the plight of the earth is directly related to an evangelical theology or conservative theology which posits the return of Jesus as so immediate as to be on the calendar; these are people so swept up with gleeful anticipation at the world’s end that they can find no earthly reason to care for non-human life forms; how we actually leave the state of the earth herself of no concern whatsoever. So we progressives are off the hook, right? Really, how can we begin to make a dent in the problem up and against such conservative thinking?
First, the assumption is false, as witnessed by the Evangelical Environmental Network charter On the Care of Creation. Second, progressive mainline churches aren’t making much of an impact regardless of a certain measurable pridefulness. After all, we recycle; we include a prayer for the earth even as we pray for the church and the nations; we bless our animals; we add an extra prayer for Earth Day.
All glibness aside – and with a nod to GreenFaith ~ Interfaith Partners for the Environment, the major theology that comes closest to what follows below is the Hindu understanding of Dharma as it relates to a web of life understanding. But, digression aside, and returning to the illusory distinctions between mainline progressive churches and evangelical churches with regard to their environmental theologies, I am asking just one question.
Is there no one who understands that the differences in our theology are far outweighed by the similarities of our common anthropology which – even in the face of all the science – continue to posit humans at the center of planetary life and concern? I don’t intend this as a rhetorical question. It’s our common anthropology, not our differing theologies, that stands as obstacle to doing the reconciling and healing work of the earth community – which, as the earth sciences has been telling us for decades, includes humans within its intricate, interconnected, and interdependent web.
This anthropocentrism is not only characteristic of people in churches but equally so of those not who have no church relationship. We’re not listening to the science. The universe is in fact not unfolding according to an anthropocentric anthropology, although most humans insist that it is. We also insist that we could fix the earth’s desolation with our technologies, if only we would.
The truth is, we can’t fix any of it from an anthropocentric perspective, that very perspective that insists we can fix anything. Only when we are willing to release our human sense of privilege and entitlement, only when we can relocate ourselves within the earth community, according to evolutionary reality, can we hope to be about the business of healing and reconciliation.
This holds true as well between human and human. As long as we insist on our anthropocentric place in the universe, a place of human privilege and entitlement, not only do we continue to live under the illusion that humans are more important than all other life forms, and that the world exists for our sakes, but we understand and act out of the illusion that some humans are more important than other humans. We are deluded. Witness Occupy Wall Street.
Some good ideas are simple and transparent. This article “found me” the other day, and I am posting it pretty much in its entirety, giving credit to Maria Popova for the original story. I have kept the links intact to make for easy back-and-forth. I live in a small New England village and am intrigued by – for example – neighborgoods. How easy it would be to set this in motion simply by putting up a flyer at the Post Office. I have lived in several major cities, and think the same thing. The ideas below not only make sense in a green kind of way, but they can serve as the building blocks of ever deepening community relationships. Enjoy!
Inconspicuous consumption, or what lunching ladies have to do with social web karma.
Stuff. We all accumulate it and eventually form all kinds of emotional attachments to it. (Arguably, because the marketing machine of the 20th century has conditioned us to do so.) But digital platforms and cloud-based tools are making it increasingly easy to have all the things we want without actually owning them. Because, as Wired founder and notable futurist Kevin Kelly once put it, “access is better than ownership.” Here are seven services that help shrink your carbon footprint, lighten your economic load and generally liberate you from the shackles of stuff through the power of sharing.
The age of keeping up with the Jonses is over. The time of linking up with them has begin. NeighborGoods is a new platform that allows you to do just that, allowing you to borrow and lend from and to your neighbors rather than buying new stuff. (Remind us please, what happened to that fancy blender you bought and used only twice?) From lawnmowers to bikes to DVD’s, the LA-based startup dubs itself “the Craigslist for borrowing,” allowing you to both save and earn money.
Transparent user ratings, transaction histories and privacy controls make the sharing process simple and safe, while automated calendars and reminders ensure the safe return of loaned items.
Give NeighborGoods a shot by creating a sharing group for your apartment building, campus, office, or reading group — both your wallet and your social life will thank you.
Similarly to Neighborgoods, SnapGoods allows you to rent, borrow and lend within your community. SnapGoods takes things step further by expanding the notion of “community” not only to your local group — neighborhood, office or apartment building — but to your social graph across the web’s trusted corners. The site features full Facebook and Meetup integration, extending your social circle to the cloud.
You can browse the goods people in your area are lending or take a look at what they need and lend a hand (or a sewing machine, as may be the case) if you’ve got the goods.
Growing one’s own produce is every hipster-urbanite’s pipe dream. But the trouble with it is that you have to actually have a place to grow it. And while a pot of cherry tomatoes on in your fire escape is better than nothing, it’s hardly anything. Enter Landshare, a simple yet brilliant platform for connecting aspiring growers with landowners who have the space but don’t use it.
swaptree is a simple yet brilliant platform for swapping your media possessions — from books to DVD’s to vinyl — once they’ve run its course in your life as you hunt for the next great thing. Since we first covered swaptree nearly three years ago, the site has facilitated some 1.6 million swaps, saving its users an estimated $10.3 million while reducing their collective carbon footprint by 9.3 million tons.
Inspired by the founders’ moms, whose lunch dates with girlfriends turned into book-swap clubs, swaptree makes sure that the only thing between you and the latest season of 24 is the price of postage.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of regifting. (No disrespect, but the disconnect between good friends and good taste is sometimes astounding.) Luckily, GiftFlow allows you to swap gifts you don’t want for ones other people don’t want but you do. The platform is based on a system of karmic reputation, where your profile shows all you’ve given and taken, building an implicit system of trust through transparency.
So go ahead, grandma. Hit us with your latest sweet but misguided gift. Chances are, there’s someone out there who’d kill for that kitschy music box.
We’re big proponents of bikesharing but, to this point, the concept has failed to transcend local implementations. While some cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Denver are fortunate enough to have thriving bikesharing programs, we’re yet to see a single service available across different locations. Until then, we’d have to settle for the next best sharing-based transportation solution: Zipcar, a 24/7, on-demand carsharing service that gives its members flexible access to thousands of cars across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Zipcar has been around for quite some time years and most people are already familiar with it, so we won’t overelaborate, but suffice it to say the service is the most promising solution to reducing both traffic congestion and pollution in cities without reducing the actual number of drivers.
Share Some Sugar
Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor. More than an Outkast lyric line, this is the inspiration behind share some sugar — a celebration of neighborliness through the sharing of goods and resources. Much like SnapGoods and NeighborGoods, the service lets you borrow, rent and share stuff within your neighborhood or group of friends.
It’s a privilege to introduce you to some people doing wonderful work at Climate of our Future, for whom the blog post below was written. In their own words, “Climate of Our Future is a blog meant to open a discussion of global climate change by providing articles, resources and opinions that provoke our readers to thought and action. We’ll attempt to describe how our world’s climate is changing, what’s causing it, and how we can correct it.
Although the discussion of climate change and its man made causes can be controversial, we can all agree that it’s important to do everything we can to safeguard our environment and its natural resources. Toward that end we’ll also be providing links to information that will allow us to reinvent ourselves as a more sustainable society.
Do you ever wonder how we humans have evolved into such a hard driven, over-scheduled, stressed out, anxious, addicted, collection of souls who tend to forget that – contrary to what we might think at any given time – the world does not revolve around our particular needs, opinions, beliefs, and interests? I wonder this! And I wonder when was the last time I remembered with intention that the universe is far deeper, more complex, more mysterious, more astonishing than I can even imagine. Maybe I had this passing thought two days ago, maybe a week ago. I would like to be remembering this all the time, because it matters, the lenses through which we experience our lives!
As long as humans believe ourselves to be the most valuable life form on the planet, existing external to the network of all life – the living web – then we will continue to exploit the earth, waters, air and all life forms for our own use, and we will continue to exploit one another. We are an anthropocentric bunch, believing and behaving as though the world revolved around us; that we are the most important; that the earth exists for our use as we see fit. We couldn’t be more wrong.
I am not sure it matters how we name the ecological crises which frame our conversations, our politics, and our behaviors: climate change; acid oceans; mass extinctions; habitat destruction; pollution; carbon footprint – it’s the same problem. And until humans come to understand ourselves as intrinsically connected to each and every life form of our planet – created of the same stardust, in the words of Neil De Grasse Tyson – the human disconnect and isolation from the earth community will only increase.
The questions I am holding are the questions of heart and soul, and, in fulll partnership with the science are the ground, I believe, for all our efforts to engage in healing.
Although – and to my regret – I never met Thomas Berry, I claim him as mentor. “I speak of the earth as subject,” he wrote, “not as object.We are born of the earth; the earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived. If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves.”
What we do to the earth and the waters, what we continue to do regarding destruction of habitat, we are doing to ourselves and each other. That’s what it means to be part of this living web and not external to it. Every name we assign to our continued degradation of the planet – every way we describe it – is a reflection of our spiritual sickness. If we knew our proper place within the biotic community, it would not be possible for us to do what we do.
In The Space Between Church & Not-Church ~ A Sacramental Vision for the Healing of our Planet, I introduce a man who modeled the partnership of ecology and spirituality. In Southern Maryland lived a scientist/educator/songwriter, Tom Wisner, whose lifetime commitment had been directed to the healing of the Chesapeake. A few years ago, Tom extended an invitation into the community for a “beautiful something” that would capture the hearts and imaginations of the Bay area Corporations and D.C. area politicians, compelling them toward such a glorious vision of a restored Chesapeake that all objection and resistance and self interest would simply melt for the sake of this sacred body of water and watershed.
The iconic “something” was imagined into being, with the help of plywood, PVC pipe, chicken wire, and water-resistant glue for the papier mâché. She emerged as a tundra swan, a species formerly but no longer a resident of the Bay, thirteen feet in length and seven feet high, with the identifying black bill and gracefully curved neck. She carried her cygnet in her wing, and the two embodied the sacred story of life and death and the battered hope of new life, an ancient story finding new shape and form, a call to hope and rebirth.
One of Wisner’s many Chesapeake songs is titled “Made of Water,” and its lyrics are a call to remember our very identity.
I’m made of water
sun and salt and winds that blow.
Though my bones
were formed in the mountains,
it’s through my blood
this river flows.
June 2009 marked the twenty-second year of the annual Patuxent River Wade-In, and for Wisner, the man who inspired the ever-evolving ritual, it was his last. Later that month my husband Jim and I were among those who gathered with Tom in the living room of his old farmhouse. Tom’s eyes focused slightly beyond us, eyes holding years of remembering. “For a brief moment,” he said softly, and to no one in particular, “a moment which might have lasted a lifetime, I could forget about the river.”
At that my head shot straight up. What did he mean? How could Tom forget about the river? We all knew what the river meant to Tom, and we knew that the Wade-In was the most significant ritual of his year. “When ritual is live and imbued with meaning,” he went on, “it makes me one with the river in such a way that I can forget about it. I lose awareness of the water itself for the sake of the . . .” he struggled for a word. “Fellowship. I couldn’t tell where I stopped and where the diatoms and the blue crabs began.”
As Tom found the words to describe the experience, he shared with those of us around the table that the ritual had dissolved the separation between himself and the river. “The separation is of the ego,” he said. To claim no memory of the distinction between self and river is to release the egoic piece to become one with the water. This is the experiential, and I have come to believe it is the first step in the shift to a biocentric perspective. Such experiences awaken our capacity to change and to learn, and, as we learn, the shift in perspective is strengthened.
Many of us are catching on, and it’s reason for radical hope. The rise in environmental activism, I think, has a direct correspondence to our internal yearning for connectedness, our desire to remember our proper place within the earth community. We already have language and imagery that speak to our longing; it’s the language of poetry and music, the imagery of beauty. This is the spiritual sustenance for our healing work, derived from our deep internal knowing of the sacredness of all creation.
This post is an excerpt from my newest book, The Space Between Church & Not-Church ~ A Sacramental Vision for the Healing of our Planet. You can find it as a page as well, under Excerpts. You will also be able to find it under a different title, “the space between . . . on the website Green Right Now, one of the “green” links that you might find helpful.
“Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.” So begins Danaan Parry’s The Parable of the Trapeze.1 He speaks of the steadiness and confidence that comes when you think you’re in control of your life, with a handle on the questions and even some of the answers. “But, every once in a while,” he continues, “. . . I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it . . . .”2 The problem is that Parry has to release the old bar to grab on to the new one, and it’s the bottomless abyss between them that holds all the scary things. He calls it the transition zone.
I call it the space between . . .
There is a space between things, between all things. The space is sacred and it is rich with blessing. I know this because I have lived in one such space for more than a decade, and I speak from it. The particular space I inhabit is that between church and what the church refers to as “the world.”
Whether the space between, or the transition zone, Parry’s description reflects our own life processes. There comes a moment—call it space, groundlessness, free fall, transition—that we have to let go of the comfort and practice of what we’ve known and cherished, or even simply held for fear of the unknown. Not one time only do we have to do this, but many. Letting go is number one on the required list for all creative endeavor, including self-knowing as well as knowing self in relationship to all life. Letting go is likewise a prerequisite for clarity of focus and safety in the space between church and not-church. The problem is that it’s frightening; letting go is risky business.
Parry continues, “I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us.”3 Parry is saying that the real risk lies in not letting go. There is no possibility for self-awakening until we let go.
Church and not-church, we have been hanging on to our respective bars for a very long time, and this is our moment to release them. This is the moment for the blessed space between us, where the unknowing—uncomfortable as it will be for a time—gives rise to a trembling newness and wonder that allows us to recognize one another, to remember our place within the earth community, and to celebrate this utter magic and mystery of which we are a part.
In a recent radio interview with Tom Ashbrook,4 the naturalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben claimed that we have already lost that which is most precious, the earth as we have known it over the past ten thousand years. It is a more than just a puzzle to me, and it should be to all of us, how we have managed to ignore our eco-messengers so thoroughly, for so long, and with such devastating consequences. That we continue to do so is an indicator either of unparalleled greed or of utter paralysis, perhaps both.
Consider, for example, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent flooding of oil. When all is said and done, this is what matters: the loss of life, the loss of habitat, the loss and threatened loss of the most fragile and cherished coral ecosystems of the planet; and the fact that we had to turn off our radios and televisions because we can’t bear to listen.
What are we missing here?
William Sloane Coffin grabbed a piece of it when he wrote of “re-sanctifying” nature, the need to “re-wed nature to nature’s God.”5 Reverence for the planet is what’s missing; sacred ritual on behalf of the planet is what’s missing. Before we can get there, however, we have to lose the distinction between nature and nature’s God. We have to lose the distinction between human and nature. There is a vast difference between the words, “I love nature”, and “I am nature.” Intellect doesn’t get us to that place, only the experiential. Life in the space between church and not-church begins with the experiential.
In Southern Maryland lived a scientist/educator/songwriter, Tom Wisner, whose lifetime commitment had been directed to the healing of the Chesapeake Bay. A few years ago Tom extended an invitation into the community for “a beautiful something” that would capture the hearts and imaginations of Bay area Corporations and D.C. area politicians, compelling them toward such a glorious vision of a restored Chesapeake that all objection and resistance and self-interest would simply melt for the sake of this sacred body of water and watershed.
The iconic “something” was imagined into being, with the help of plywood, PVC pipe, chicken wire, and water-resistant glue for the papier mâché. She emerged as a tundra swan, a species formerly but no longer a resident of the Bay, thirteen feet in length and seven feet high, with the identifying black bill and gracefully curved neck. She carried her cygnet in her wing, and the two embodied the sacred story of life and death and the battered hope of new life, an ancient story finding new shape and form, a call to hope and rebirth, clear and powerful as the singular story of the empty tomb.
One of Wisner’s many Chesapeake songs is titled “Made of Water,”6 and its lyrics are a call to remember—the church’s word is anamnesis—our very identity.
I’m made of water
flowing water sun and salt
and winds that blow.
Though my bones
were formed in the mountains,
it’s through my blood this river flows.
June 2009 marked the twenty-second year of the annual Patuxent River Wade-In, and for Wisner, the man who inspired the ever-evolving ritual, it was his last. It was fitting, then, that Maryland dignitaries such as retired State Senator Bernie Fowler, and current Governor Martin O’Malley would use the occasion to celebrate Wisner’s life as well as their own continued commitment to the healing of the Chesapeake and the rivers, such as the Patuxent and the Potomac, that feed it. Later that month my husband Jim and I were among those who gathered with Tom in the living room of his old farmhouse. Tom’s eyes focused slightly beyond us, eyes holding years of remembering. “For a brief moment,” he said softly, and to no one in particular, “a moment which might have lasted a lifetime, I could forget about the river.”
At that my head shot straight up. What did he mean? How could Tom forget about the river? We all knew what the river meant to Tom, and we knew that the Wade-In was the most significant ritual of his year. “When ritual is live and imbued with meaning,” he went on, “it makes me one with the river in such a way that I can forget about it. I lose awareness of the water itself for the sake of the . . .” he struggled for a word. “Fellowship. I couldn’t tell where I stopped and where Bernie and O’Malley—or even the diatoms and the blue crabs, for that matter—began.”
As Tom found the words to describe the experience, he shared with those of us around the table that the ritual had dissolved the separation between himself and the river. “The separation is of the ego,” he said.
To claim no memory of the distinction between self and river is to release the egoic piece to become one with the water. This is the experiential, and I have come to believe it is the first piece of the shift to a biocentric perspective. Such ritual experiences awaken our capacity to change and to learn, and as we learn, the shift in perspective is strengthened. Experiences such as these are hard to come by, however, because we continue to lull ourselves into believing we are already acting in concert with the planet.
1 Danaan Parry, “The Parable of the Trapeze,” in Warriors of the Heart (Seattle, WA: Earthstewards Network, 1991) 84.
4 Bill McKibben, Interview by Tom Ashbrook On Point, WBUR, April 30, 2010.
5 William Sloane Coffin, A Passion for the Possible, Louisville KY: John Knox Press,1993, 2004), 29.
6 Tom Wisner, Made of Water, (Lion and Fox Recording, produced by Tom Wisner and Jim Fox, Washington D.C.), 2001.
I’d had an idea in mind as I framed this post as a guest blogger for The Big Green Purse, and – as I usually do – I held it against the tapestry of posts already on the Big Green Purse site. When I saw the image of the slain elephant, my own approach vanished. I didn’t want to read the article; I didn’t want to see the image; I didn’t want to hear the rationale behind the slaughter. I certainly didn’t want to see GoDaddy’s CEO standing over this magnificent creature in a way reminiscent of my earliest school days, when images of cave men dragging off their women by pony tails just like mine adorned the inside covers – front and back – of my first Ancient History book. At the time, I shed huge kindergarten tears over the injustice of it all; my teacher Miss Meyer, frustrated and angry because the M & M’s bribe hadn’t served to soothe my heart, called my mother to come take me home.
My tears are softer as an adult, and sadder. Tonight the wrinkles of my face served as riverbeds for them, and they coursed, hot and salty, within the borders. Despite the catch in my throat, I picked up the phone, cancelled my GoDaddy account, and, with gratitude to those who had done the research, registered www.restoringwaters.ndmdev.com with another domain host. Only as my cracked open heart began to yield to a deeper sorrow, did I begin to consider the bigger questions:
~ Given what the ecological sciences have taught us about the interconnectedness
and interdependence of all life forms, how can we keep doing what we do?
~ How can we take a life such as this, and think for a moment that it doesn’t matter?
~ When will we come to understand that the slaying of an elephant is an assault
of the most heinous kind, not only on this particular elephant, but upon all life
forms including ourselves?
That the earth community exists not as some large number of distinct species, but as an integrated, interdependent system – John Muir referred to it as a living web – is not new news. But most of us have yet to understand the implications. Everything matters. Every life form is an invaluable participant in the health of the eco-system(s). The health of the system itself is a direct reflection of its biodiversity.
In an essay written not long before his death, the writer Thomas Berry said, “ The deepest cause of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being. . . the other-than-human modes of being have reality and value only through their use by the human.
“In this context the other-than-human becomes totally vulnerable to exploitation by the human, an attitude that is shared by all four of the fundamental establishments that control the human realm – the political, economic, intellectual, and religious.”
It’s become very clear over the past few years, that we’re not responding to the wealth of data that the sciences are offering. And so I’ve begun to reframe this information in terms of its spiritual dimension – spiritual, not religious. To the extent that we have lost our connection to the natural world of which we are an integral part, we have become a lost people. A man who can slay an elephant because s/he was considered a “problem” and then pledge to do it again, has become spiritually untethered and dangerous.
Berry writes, “We are born of the earth. We are earthlings. The earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived. If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves.”
We are all born of the earth, all made of the same stuff. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us that all life forms are of star dust. “We are in the universe,” he says, “but even more important, the universe is in us. I don’t know any deeper spiritual feeling. What we’re looking to is a radical change of the collective human heart. We can’t accomplish that until we as a species are willing to release our archaic notion that we sit at the apex of the created world. Our greening efforts require it. Our politics require it. Our education requires it. Our economics require it. And our souls are hungry.
Suggested Action Response
If you have a Go-Daddy account, I suggest you cancel it, and tell them why. If you would like replacement information, respond to this post, and I will supply it.